Congress is Back: Farm Bill Update

Congress is back in session. Will there be any movement on the Farm Bill?

What will the impact be on beginning farmers?

Congress returned to Washington this week after its recess, during which, little progress was made on the farm bill. Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reported that the debate on Syria should take at least this week, if not more, which will delay action on the farm bill and agriculture appropriations bill. The current farm bill extension expires at the end of September. And it does not appear likely a new farm bill will emerge prior to expiration. So, what’s going to happen if the farm bill expires? Expiration means different things for different programs. Some programs which have ongoing farm bill funding would lose the ability to spend funds if the farm bill expires; these programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and many of the major agricultural export programs. Some programs were excluded from the current farm bill extension; these programs would continue to be out of business if a new farm bill is not signed into law. These farm bill programs include programs for rural development, renewable energy, beginning farmers, minority farmers, organic farmers, and specialty crop farmers, as well as disaster assistance for livestock producers.

What about SNAP (food stamps)? According to NSAC: “Unlike the farm part of the farm bill, the food stamp program will likely not face an expiration crisis.” Why? NSAC projects, based on past Congressional decision-making,  because the short-term CR — assuming it follows the pattern set by Congress last year — will include a provision to keep the food stamp program running for the new fiscal year under the terms of the old farm bill.” On this same topic, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently said the following to Mike Adams on the AgriTalk radio program: “Everybody in the country knows we’re not going to have a $40 billion cut in SNAP, and a lot of folks believe it’s a bad idea to separate the nutrition programs from the food programs, so we’ve wasted time, and frankly, that’s something we don’t have a lot of. It’s important for the House to get serious about this and get it done.” Read more about the political landscape and projections for the farm bill moving forward here.

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